Back last November I opened the front door to a very distressed Thing 1, who – on her way back from walking her friend to their job in the pub round the corner – had been accosted by an adult who had tried to kiss her. Thing 1 is 16, she’s polite and friendly, and she answers when she’s spoken to which is how she’s been brought up. We live in a village, we see the same people on a regular basis and so you say hello, because that’s what you do in a small community. For the last couple of years this adult has been making comments which erred towards the inappropriate, but could be brushed off as just overly friendly.
Comments on appearance, on how she was growing up, asking if she was still at school. The sort of thing you’d laugh off as being a bit creepy, followed by ‘say hi to your mum and dad’. Innocuous. Then she turned 16, started at college, and the tone changed.
‘Have you got a boyfriend? I bet you’ve got lots of secret admirers. I know you’ve got at least one, you’re growing up nicely’. The sort of thing you need to keep an eye on, as it’s too creepy. She would come home and tell us when he’d spoken to her, so we knew what was going on but thought he was just sleazy as she’d laugh it off.
On this day in November she wasn’t very well, so wasn’t as alert as usual, and she was trying to get home. We spent the following day at the emergency GP, in fact, with severe tonsillitis. On this occasion he started with ‘was that your boyfriend? Have you got a boyfriend?’ and then he put his hands on her shoulders and went in to try and kiss her. She reacted by stepping back and came home in a state.
This is a married man, at least in his 30s. who clearly knows what he is doing is wrong – asking her if she’s 16 yet, for example, is a clear indicator that he is aware of the legality of the situation. He is a local business owner, who has been heard encouraging teenage boys to bring their girlfriends in as ‘he likes them young’.
After speaking to a friend in the police we reported the incident and luckily they took it seriously, sending someone to interview Thing 1 and I, taking video evidence from her – and doing everything they could to make it an easy experience for her – and eventually arresting him. He of course denies knowing her (and someone else who made a complaint against him) and is out on bail, and this week – as he’s denied it – she had to go and do an identity parade which is fortunately all digital these days. It wasn’t easy: she texted me after I checked in on how it had gone, and said,
‘Yeah it was fine it was weird though all the pictures were fine but as soon as I saw his it felt like his eyes were looking right at me it was so uncomfy.’
She’s been so brave, and I am so proud of her: she is clear that she doesn’t want this to happen to someone else, who may not be as speedy or as supported as she is. She has to walk past his business twice a day, three days a week to catch the bus to college, and his bail conditions state that he is not allowed to speak to her or approach her – as he hasn’t, I assume that he does actually know who she is, despite the denials. The police have been great, keeping us updated with any developments and taking her seriously.
I’m not under any illusions that anything will actually happen to this man as a result of my little girl being brave enough to step up and make her statement: much as I’d like to see him named and shamed and drummed out of the village, I’m quite realistic. I would like the parents of other teen girls in the village to warn their daughters away, or at least to make sure their daughters know that this behaviour is sexual harassment and they don’t have to put up with it. It’s not ‘cultural’, it’s not ‘being friendly’, it’s harassment and we now know that it won’t stop there.
What I’d like even more is to know that I won’t have to write yet another blog post next year calling out sexual assault, or harassment, or even inappropriate behaviour. I think we’ve all had enough.
Things making me less furious this week:
The safe arrival of my very gorgeous new grandson this week, two weeks early, courtesy of Timeshare Teenager 2 (she’s 25, but they’ll always be the TTs). I think Grandson 1 was hoping for a baby robot for a cousin but he’ll have to put up with a regular human baby.
A good 13.5k ramble in the sunshine this morning following a footpath I’ve been eyeing up for a while, seeing my first swifts of the years and a whole family of hares.
A day off midweek, with a lovely walk round Harlow Town Park with Sue and the Bella-Dog finished off with tea and an Eccles cake
The Gaslight Anthem’s new single with an album to follow
A catch-up with an ex-colleague about attracting secondary school teachers to the museums
Tomorrow I have a swim and a visit to the new arrival planned, a Long Walk on Monday with London sister, and then will be spending some time this week planning another Long Walk away from all media next Saturday.
Happy Long Weekend!
What I’ve been reading:
Desperate Undertaking/Fatal Legacy/The Silver Pigs – Lindsey Davis
This was secondary school week, when our year six kids find out which school they’ll be off to in September. For the lucky ones (including us) it’s your first choice school but others may not have fared so well. In our village, it’s a bit of a lottery – the majority of the children will have selected the school in Epping and will probably have got in, but if they’re in the half of the village that’s past the library they won’t be entitled to school transport as they’re closer geographically to the school in Ongar. Unfortunately as it’s so oversubscribed they haven’t got a chance of actually getting into Ongar – we got Thing 2 and 3 in on the sibling rule as Thing 1 started there when it wasn’t oversubscribed as Ongar parents didn’t want to send their darlings to a new school.
This is the first year the school has had a full cohort of students from Y7-Y13, as it’s been building year by year as a new academy. It has its issues (a severe shortage of maths teachers this year) and I shall be watching their options system with interest as it appears to be more focused than I’d like on the government’s EBacc targets than on the children’s own wishes, but we’ve been happy with it for all the kids. One of the reasons I chose Ongar was because it had more of a creative focus, and you all know creativity is one of my favourite things, but that does appear to be changing. Thing 2 will be making her GCSE options next year, so I will have my eye on it.
Still, that is not the subject of this week’s blog really – it’s more of a long-winded intro. This post is really about me, and Thing 3, and growing up and stuff. He wants to be allowed to walk home from school on his own which might not seem like a big thing in the grand scheme, but…
…one of the best things that’s come out of the pandemic is that I’m still working from home quite a lot and doing the school run a few afternoons a week. For me this is still a novelty. Apart from when I was on various maternity leaves, when school run was a pain as it meant wrestling the others into a buggy and coaxing a tired little one along the mile walk home up a big hill, this is the first time I’ve really had to do this. Our wonderful childminders did it for years, which I can’t complain about as we couldn’t have managed without them, but not me.
So, three afternoons a week I put the laptop to sleep and head off up to the school to collect Thing 3, and I get to brace myself as he hurls himself across the playground at me for a hug. I do the playground thing and chat to other parents, and I know which parents are attached to which child. I get to walk home and chat with my son as he tells me all about his day. This week we’ve compared secondary school notes. Sometimes I’m able to return the many favours my friends have done for me when the Central Line has failed or when I was ill last year, and pick up their children as well. It’s been easier to say yes to playdates. It sounds daft, but these are some of the things I missed as a working parent – once, when Thing 1 was in Year 4, my beloved and I both did school run and another parent did a double take and said ‘I didn’t realise you two were together‘. That was how often I wasn’t there…
And now he is into his last two terms at primary school and from September he’ll be on the bus with his sisters or my beloved will be picking up, and I won’t get to do it any more. So, sorry son, but I’m making the most of you while I still can.
A finish or two
This week I have a couple of days off as I didn’t have any time off in half term, and am plotting and planning what to do with that free time! I’m thinking the new Folkwear Basics jacket, and maybe an afternoon nap or two.
Until week 103 (wow!) then…
What I’ve been reading:
The Library at the End of the World – Felicity Hayes-McCoy
The Innocents – Harlan Coben
Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 2 (Audible)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry/The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce
Before this week’s reflections on the art of successful parenting (those who know me, feel free to laugh) I’d like to say thank you to everyone who read, shared, and responded to last week’s ramble. More than 320 people have seen the post, which is HUGE for me. I’m glad I shared it, and didn’t delete the draft despite my doubts.
Normal service can resume….
Stroganoffgate and other stories
Once upon a time, I was a brand new mum and wanted to do everything right, which of course included weaning. I cooked stuff and pureed it: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, all mushed through a sieve with baby milk. I followed Annabel Karmel’s tips. I froze things in ice cube trays. I bought organic when I bought readymade food. I didn’t add salt to anything. It became yet another thing to beat myself up about: Thing One didn’t like the pureed veg. She liked – mostly – to eat the Radio Times. Her first birthday photos show her with a face covered in soil from one of the pots in the garden. She would wolf down Heinz baby cauliflower cheese one week, then decide I was trying to poison her the next.
So, with Thing Two I didn’t bother with the pureed veg and went straight to the jars, and she ate pretty much everything. She was an adventurous eater and her favourite food was always someone else’s – she is that child peering beadily at you in a restaurant, always wanting to try your food. She took to Chinese and Indian far quicker than the other two, and her favourite condiment is sweet chilli sauce which, she tells me, goes with everything. How times change: she has now decided she doesn’t like jacket potatoes or sausages, unless it’s a battered one from the chip shop.
By the time Thing Three turned up I’d had enough, and he pretty much ate what we did.
Because of my beloved’s shift pattern we’d got into a habit where I fed the kids early. We’d eat when he got home, which meant I was doing two different meals several nights a week: working full time as well meant this got quite wearing.
It was high time, I declared, that we all ate the same thing. I could cook it early and then the kids could have theirs and we could eat later! There would be no alternative meals,! My children would eat what was put in front of them or they would go hungry!
Man (or woman) makes plans and god laughs, as some wise person once said.
I decided (wrongly, as it turned out) that this would be an excellent time to try some delicious new recipes, starting with a pork stroganoff. I left out the mustard, I made sure it wasn’t spicy, and I carefully picked the mushrooms out of the kids’ portions. It was delicious. You would have thought that I’d put a plate of live snails in front of them: Thing One went to bed rather than eat anything on her plate. Thing Two ate the rice but wouldn’t eat the stroganoff or any rice that had sauce on. Thing Three – once his sisters stopped making a fuss – ate the lot. I gave up on new recipes as it was just too stressful.
You’d think that over the years things would have got easier, and they’d try more things. To be fair, they are improving: this week we have had two new meals. These Indian koftas were a resounding success, and the sesame broccoli from this recipe was a revelation. They’ll definitely be on the rotation from now on, and I’ll be trying some more new things out on them too.
So, here are my top tips for feeding your kids of any age:
Invest in a couple of metres of wipe-clean tablecloth fabric to go under the high chair. It’s amazing how far a spoonful of peas can travel. Don’t even talk to me about rice.
Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t got time to cook from scratch everyday. Fish fingers were invented for a reason. So were baby food jars.
Mr Tumble Dryer is your friend during weaning and potty training.
Disguising food is fine. My mum grated liver in the mouli-grater for years and put it in the gravy. Last week I grated mushrooms into the spag bol and none of themnoticed.
Lying is also fine: “No, Thing One, of course I took your bit out before I added the spices to the chilli.” My mum fed London sister boiled bacon while the rest of us had gammon, and ‘long-eared rodent stew’ was quite popular despite the fact that we had a pet rabbit.
Ignore the people who say their child eats everything. One day they won’t. Try not to snigger till they’re out of earshot.
Apparently it can take up to twenty tries to get a child to eat something new. Maybe spread those tastes out a bit and don’t try it all at once.
Bananas stain more than you think they would. Trust me.
‘Green eggs and ham’ is a great story but won’t help you convince your kids to eat anything.
Back on your heads, lads
This week I have been back in the office twice, and it’s been bliss: the tubes in haven’t been too busy and I have half the foot of the second sock done thanks to the commute. I’m still swatching for Tunisian crochet – the pattern calls for 3.5mm and so far I’ve tried 3.5, 4, 4.5 and 5mm hooks and they’ve all come up too small. 5.5mm is looking good though, so I live in hope.
I’m able at last to share the latest instalment in the year of handmade gifts: a cross stitch I designed and made for my line manager. The lockdown birthday culture at the museum is lovely! This is one of her frequent sayings, worked up in DMC variegated threads on 14 count black aida.
Yesterday my beloved and I sorted through his collection of Royal Mail stamp cards, which rather than get rid of we’re going to use – especially the Christmas ones. There are some lovely artworks here – my favourites are the springtime ones by Andy Goldsworthy. and the wintertime hare.
I couldn’t resist this one, either – any excuse for a Monty Python reference! I’m not even sorry….
So that’s been my week: cooking, crochet, cross stitch, commuting! This week’s cover image is the snow moon seen from North Weald Common early on Friday morning. Spring is on the way – the song thrushes are singing their little heads off, the doves are beating each other up on the lawn and the male blackbirds are running off their rivals.
Next week is week 50 – it seems pretty unbelievable that we’ve been in various phases of lockdown for almost a year! Hopefully the kids will be back at school next week (well, I’m hoping so at least!) and the ‘roadmap’ back to normal is realistic. Fingers crossed!
What I’ve been reading:
Inspector Hobbes and the Gold Diggers/Inspector Hobbes and the Bones – Wilkie Martin
A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
When I was 29 I thought I had my life in order: I was a home owner, I had a settled relationship and I had a job I loved.
Also when I was 29, I found myself single and looking for somewhere to live. It was after viewing yet another dingy bedsit (sorry, ‘studio flat’) in East London that I found myself on Mile End station, standing at the end of the platform where the wall went all the way to the edge and the driver wouldn’t have time to see me. I stood there for a long, long time, staring at the track, and eventually a kind person came and talked to me and put me on a train instead of under one. Without the kindness of that stranger I would, in all probability, not be here.
That moment should have been the one where I recognised I needed some help, but as I had always seen myself as a bit of a Tigger – when I hit the ground I bounced. I put it down to viewing dingy bedsits, decided to stay in Epping, and carried on. I found a flat and moved in. The day after I moved in, someone phoned to check in on me. I opened my mouth and started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Even then, I didn’t go and get help.
I decided I would be brave and grown up and do Christmas on my own, as it felt like an admission of failure to go home. It wasn’t until I met my best friend for lunch in London and she went straight home and phoned my mother that things started to move: my dad came and got me and took me home for Christmas. My mum found me sobbing over the sellotape, phoned the doctor I’d known for many years and marched me off to see her. I was diagnosed with depression. 2003 is known to me and my friends as ‘Kirsty’s lost year’: I made very questionable decisions, I cooked a lot but ate nothing, I drank far too much (not a good idea with anti-depressants), I slept little. My beloved Grandad Bill died that year, which is one of the few things I remember. I made some new friends, who took me under their collective wing and put up with the fact that I was so far away with the fairies that Tinkerbell was my next door neighbour. My best friend had a baby and made me godmother, despite me being so patently unsuitable for the job at the time. It was a year of feeling like a ghost in my own life
In late 2003 I started to pull myself back together: I got a second job, in a pub, which meant I wasn’t drinking or staying home alone. I moved to another flat and met the man who would become my beloved, and slowly I started to feel ‘normal’ again. I came off the antidepressants after a couple of false starts, and a couple of years later Thing One arrived. I was terrified: labour had been frightening, long and painful as she was lying on my sciatic nerve. An aggressive healthcare assistant kept telling me I was breastfeeding wrong: I was failing at parenting after less than a day! They took my baby away as she kept breathing too fast and brought her back several hours later without a lot of explanation. The expectation is that your baby will arrive, you will fall instantly in love and motherhood will kick in instinctively – but it doesn’t. It wasn’t too long before that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself, and now there was a baby?
I went back to work when she was five and a half months old, to find I had a new line manager who I barely knew (he was lovely, but that shouldn’t have happened while I was on mat leave: this was before ‘keeping in touch’ days). I worked full time and I was exhausted. I felt guilty for going back to work but we had to eat and pay rent, didn’t we? She had terrible colic, so evenings were horrendous and for six nights out of seven I was on my own with her till 8pm as my beloved was either working or with the older children at his mother’s. At a couple of months old she stopped putting on weight, which was another worry.
I was desperately afraid I’d hurt her, but I had no one to talk to about whether this feeling was normal or not (it wasn’t). I loved my baby so much that sometimes just looking at her made me cry, but I was terrified of what I might do because I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t tell anyone though, in case they thought there was something wrong with me and took her away.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’
There was a baby boom that year, so her nine month check was delayed. When it eventually came round the health visitor took one look at me, said we’d deal with the baby next time, and made a doctor’s appointment for me on the spot. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, signed off work, and put back on the tablets – this time with some counselling support, which took the form of cognitive behaviour therapy and which helped me see that I wasn’t a total failure. My London sister became my lifeline, as she was close enough to help – my parents were settled in France by then. Luckily her work brought her to the east side of London regularly. I don’t know what I would have done without her appearing and doing the aunty thing.
When the PND kicked in with Thing 2 I recognised what was happening and marched myself off to the doctor as soon as I started feeling odd. With Thing 3, I took up exercise and tried to prevent the slide, which mostly worked as long as I kept running.
This time round, I have been on the anti-depressants since 2014: a friend was killed in an accident, and I was heartbroken. Grieving so far away from their family and our mutual friends was hard. I went to Cornwall to scatter their ashes, foolishly thinking that that would give me ‘closure’ and I’d be fine afterwards, and…I wasn’t.
I don’t see the tablets as a cure, but they give me the time and the headspace to be able to see a way through each day. There are bad days still, when I feel as if I am wading through treacle and the world is a long way away. They are becoming further and further apart, which is a blessing, and I have to say that having six months on furlough last year made a huge difference to my mental state. I keep walking, and I keep making things, and I have friends who also have varying forms of depression and anxiety. We support each other and stage the odd intervention when we see things aren’t right.
On Thursday I took Thing One to the Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service for an assessment. We have been there before, when her anxiety first started in primary school after being bullied. We self-referred last September and pressure on the service is so high that it took this long to be seen, but the keyworker she’s been assigned was wonderful, and will be putting a care plan in place for her. She told me before half term that she just wants to go back to school: the routine, her friends, clear expectations. It’s hard enough being a 14 year old girl without a global pandemic preventing you from seeing your friends.
It’s a shame that this service stops when they are in their early twenties. Getting help after that becomes much more difficult, only really kicking in after a crisis and then anti-psychotics seem to be the default setting rather than care. This service is so underfunded, and a lot of responsibility is devolved to the schools who are also not equipped to cope with the levels of mental health issues being seen in pre-teens and teenagers at the moment. I’m pleased that Thing One feels she can tell me anything, and I hope that all my children (both natural and the timeshare teenagers) feel the same. I hope that my adult friends can too.
I’m going to break out into cliche here: if your leg was broken no one would tell you to pull yourself together, and it’s past time we had the same attitude to your heart and your mind. I was lucky to have friends who saw through the fragile bravado and the manic socialising, but not everyone – especially in this time of isolation – has support like that.
I started writing this on Friday, while I was reflecting on Thing One’s visit to EHWS, and over the past couple of days I’ve thought several times about deleting it. Is it too much? Have I been too honest? Do my friends, family and colleagues need to know this about me? There are things here that I have never spoken aloud, for example. Then I re-read the last paragraph above and realised that to delete it would be to become guilty of hiding my own mental health issues, when the point of the post was to talk about depression and anxiety openly.
So, the post will stand and I will stand by it. This is me: not brave, because it should not take courage to speak when you’re ill, it should be normal.
The fun stuff
I finished my sock at last! Now to do the other one. I do love crocheting socks, and as I’ll be back in the office and on trains twice a week for a while these are a great portable project. In one of my magazines there was a supplement about Tunisian crochet and it had a sock pattern, so I’ll give that a go soon too.
There’s been a lot of cross stitch: here’s the temperature tree update, and I have been working on a Happy Sloth design of a galaxy in a bottle. I’ve also been frankenpatterning (combining two patterns to make a new one) as I wanted something particular but couldn’t find it. More on that later!
On Friday we had a family Zoom call: my lovely dad was 80 and we couldn’t be with him. Obviously as a teenager I was convinced both my parents were trying to ruin my life, but they were pretty cool really. Without my dad I wouldn’t still be able to say the formula for solving quadratic equations on demand or my times tables. I would have no clue about the need for balance and options in my life. I wouldn’t know how to annoy my kids by standing in front of the TV, and as I get older I appreciate his afternoon nap habit more and more – even at 47 he’s a role model! I blame my parents for my love of books, and Dad specifically for the science fiction and fantasy habit. Happy birthday Dad – I love you!
So that’s been my week! Normal service (well, as far as that goes) will resume next week.
What I’ve been reading:
Inspector Hobbes and the Blood/Inspector Hobbes and the Curse – Wilkie Martin
A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
We’ve made it! It’s half term – for the kids at least, though I have booked a day off on Thursday – and so we have a week off from daily Zoom lessons, Google classroom and the constant round of nagging about doing the work set. I cannot fault their schools, and am in awe of their teachers who are planning and delivering online work and feeding back on it, while also doing the same for the key worker children in school, managing pastoral care and also looking after their own families… but I am so glad it’s half term.
Not just for me, but for my mum (and dad) friends as well. We are working parents, without exception, and while we are expert jugglers and plate spinners – often holding at least two conversations while simultaneously sorting laundry, thinking about dinner, and praying for bedtime – there is a limit to the number of plates we can keep spinning before something drops. Right now, we are spinning all these parental plates and at the same time juggling the work oranges as well. I know that I am not the only one who feels like we aren’t giving enough time to either. It’s hard to help with maths when you’re in a Teams meeting, for a start. Children – especially young ones – don’t understand that there are other demands on your time and don’t respect the boundaries of an online meeting. Older children can be a help sometimes, but they have their own work to do and its not fair to put extra responsibility on them.
In ‘normal’ times we have our work heads and our home heads, and often we have a commute in between so we have a chance to swap them over, to decompress on the train home, to think about dinner before we are faced with actually having to cook it, to read a few chapters of a book or to listen to a podcast. You don’t realise how valuable that down time is until you don’t have it. Over the last couple of weeks I have been finishing work quite late (for me, anyway, as a committed morning person!), getting up from the dining table where I’ve been working, and starting on dinner straight away in response to the ‘what’s for dinner/when’s dinner/how long till’ conversations. By Thursday I’d completely lost the will to live cook and resorted to the chippy. My head was so overfull that I couldn’t contemplate dinner as well, let alone trying to cook something that everyone would eat. Dinner that night was just one too many plates to spin, so I gave up.
On Friday all three of mine were on a screen-free, mindfulness, wellbeing sort of day as decreed by their schools. An excellent idea, and the secondary school sent home ideas of things they could do (I really approved of the one that said ‘make your parent a hot drink’). I, on the other hand, did not have a screen free, mindful sort of day. I was trying to focus on what my museum learning might look like in three years time. It was too cold – with a wind chill of -8 – to send them outside for any length of time. I couldn’t stop to play board games or do jigsaws, or to go for a walk in the sunshine, so their wellbeing day didn’t do a lot for me.
So this week it’s half term and I still have work to do, and I am going to give myself a break. If they spend a whole day on Minecraft while talking their friends, I am not going to worry about it: they can’t go on playdates with them, so this is the contact they can have. If Thing 1 wants to stay in bed watching emotional teen movies till lunchtime, fine. We can all benefit from a bit of a break, whether its from parental plate spinning or algebra. And yes, there might even be takeaway one night.
After last week’s ramble about wanting to learn to draw, I picked up my sketchbook and did a couple of Craftsy classes online – I started the ‘Urban Sketching in 15 minutes a day’ course, and then yesterday I tried a line drawing one about how to sketch a house. I really enjoyed them and am learning to embrace the imperfections, as one of the tutors was very keen to impress on me. Craftsy is a great source of courses at the moment, and I took advantage of an offer a couple of months back to get a year’s premium membership for about a fiver rather than $70.
In the year of the handmade gift I sent off a TARDIS cross stitch to a lovely Whovian friend – he and his husband have just bought their dream home, so I used a design by NERDpillo to make this one. I almost didn’t want to fill in all the blue as the black lines were so clean and sharp, but I did. I’m so pleased they like it!
It’s been proper brass monkeys weather this week – today is the first day in a week that the thermometer has gone above one degree. I was quite excited on Tuesday when I got to add a new colour to the Temperature Tree as it was so cold. You can also see a little toadstool in a hoop that I did purely to try out a string art backing technique, and an ombre string art heart card.
Finally, I chopped all my hair off on Friday morning – I tried the unicorn horn method that I used last time and it was still too long at the back, so I put it in pigtails and chopped both off at collarbone level. I love it, it’s curly and I can get a brush through it in seconds flat.
(I was also really, really chuffed to be told on Friday that my article for CPRE had received 2000 views.)
Happy Valentines Day
A shout out to another creative friend here – the very lovely Emma, whose Etsy shop provided my gifts to my beloved for my anniversary last weekend and Valentine’s Day today.
There’s been a sweet theme this year: he indulged my passion for liquorice, and as well as torpedoes I have been given several bags of Spogs. These are a standing joke between us: when we were first together I had a bag of liquorice allsorts, and I’d saved all the spogs for last as they were my favourites. I came home to find he’d eaten them all as he thought I didn’t like them.
So that’s week 47! Happy Valentines Day to you all, you gorgeous bunch. See you next week!
This week has been all about the patchwork! Regular visitors to my little corner of the web will remember that I had a birthday the other week and, as guilt free shopping is always good, I was given a couple of Amazon vouchers. I have a rule that birthday money should always be spent on presents for yourself, and not on anything practical like new washing machines or cat food: therefore, much of my crafty wish list found its way into my basket!
Throughout furlough I have been really enjoying patchwork – starting with the mini charm quilt and the Attic Window quilt that had been in the UFO pile for years, and then working through various charm packs and fat quarters that were lurking in the stash.
Like most people who sew, I end up with lots of remnants. Prior to lockdown, I used to take all my cotton/polycotton remnants to work where they would be used to dress the thousands of peg dolls children made every term, and in April I gave a lot of fabric to a woman in the village to make masks from as she wasn’t charging for them. Since then, the pile has been building up again.
One of the presents I bought myself was ‘Use scraps, sew blocks, make 100 quilts‘ by Stuart Hillard and it’s been a bit of a game changer. I had a couple of books of traditional quilt patterns already, as well as Quilting for Dummies, but as they are all in black and white I found it hard to get inspired by them. I always enjoy Stuart’s column in one of my sewing magazines, so this seemed like a good book to buy. As you can see, it’s already bristling with sticky notes! Every time I look through it something else catches my eye.
It’s a very practical book – suggestions for organising your scraps by cutting them to useful, regularly-used sizes before you chuck them in a box, or for cutting a strip off every fabric you buy and adding to your patch pile might seem obvious but as a newbie patcher I really hadn’t thought of that before. Having this sort of hoard also means that you see how colours and prints work together in a way you might not have expected.
The instructions for piecing together are very clear, and Stuart has simplified the cutting process for each block (I love his quick half-square triangle method!) to make them feel less daunting for newbies. The virtual quilt illustrations are really useful alongside the photos of the gorgeous finished quilts and make me feel as if I could actually make one of these artworks.
On Stuart’s advice I bought a 45mm rotary cutter and a proper transparent quilter’s ruler – I had a larger 65mm cutter that I don’t use much, probably as it’s blunt, and normal steel rulers, but the quilting rule has angles and centimetres. I wish it had inches as well, but there we are. I felt ready to put all these top organisational tips into action , so I wandered up to my shed and sorted out a pile of remnants to cut into nice tidy pieces. I did make a start, honest…I cut up some Japanese florals and Kokeshi prints into 6″ squares to go with a set of Totoro panels, and then I got distracted. Again.
One of the pre-cut charm packs I discovered in the stash was a set of 4-inch squares with florals, ladybirds and butterflies – I think I bought it at a stitch show years ago as I find it hard to resist anything with ladybirds on! In the remnant pile I found some cream polycotton left over from making the Colette Sorbetto top, and it looked as if it would pair nicely with the charms. I ended up making half-square triangles and then spent several days playing with patterns.
How do you choose which patchwork design to use? I moved things around on my drawing board, and every time I chanced on another layout I loved it just as much. I ended up taking photos of every block and posting them on Facebook, and asked my friends what they thought at block and layout stages – quilting by committee! Some of the layouts used the prints randomly, others put them together, and I even tried putting two different blocks together to create something quite chaotic. Opinion was divided – some people liked the same pattern together, others preferred the mixture of patterns, but the clear winner was the pinwheel or windmill block (centre bottom).
I went with the majority vote and I am soooo pleased with the outcome. It worked well as a stashbuster, which just goes to show what a good investment the book was! As well as the cream print in the triangles I made the bias binding myself from the remnants of the backing fabric from the red quilt from a few weeks ago using this tutorial, and this quilt top is backed with a cot sheet that I had kept from when the kids were little. I used a double layer of batting, as it’s the 2oz one and I wanted a puffier effect, and I quilted in the ditch along the diagonal lines. It’s not a huge quilt, coming out at 33″ x 26″, but it’ll be a good baby gift.
There will be more patchwork in the future, I suspect! This week I am going to try and be good and finish chopping remnants into organised scraps, and possibly have a go at the Morgan jeans if the fabric arrives. I’m still working on the two commission dolls, which just need to be given hair and clothes, and yesterday I managed a whole round of my virus shawl while queuing for the Co-op and the post office.
This week my annual pension statement arrived from my previous job and reminded me that I have another 20 years of work to go (on current reckoning, anyway – who knows what the next two decades have in store?) on the same day that my eldest, Thing 1, decided to go Goth on me. She is 14 this week and looks so grown up – it doesn’t seem that long since the ridiculously hot summer of 2006 when she arrived, and I wanted to take her back to the hospital as I really didn’t feel capable of being in charge of this little being. I’m told this is quite normal!
There’s still days when I’m not sure I’m ready for the responsibility, but it may be a little late to change my mind now. One of the wonderful things about furlough is that I have had time to spend with the three of them that – as a working parent – I wouldn’t otherwise have had. These months have been the longest time I have had away from work since my last maternity leave (in 2011!) and while I love my job and wouldn’t want to give up work, I do feel lucky to have had this chance to enjoy my children now they are a bit bigger. Maternity leave is great, but it’s also a lot of hard work with a tiny person and a lot of overwhelming emotions, especially if – as I found – post-natal depression comes into the mix. It’s a cliche but your babies don’t stay little for long!
I also ventured further from home this week than I have done since lockdown started – a whole five miles, in order to make my 21st blood donation over in Theydon Bois. It was all very well organised, with triage as you enter and no waiting around. The worst part was when my Kindle crashed about a minute into my donation – nothing to read!
I started giving blood in 2011 after my brother in law suffered a heart injury which left him in hospital for several months and with permanent impairments. My youngest child was still tiny and I couldn’t be with my sister as much as I’d have liked, so donating blood helped me feel a bit more useful. I love getting the texts that tell me where my blood has been issued to! Only 4% of people who are eligible to give blood actually do, so I try and encourage friends and colleagues to visit the vampires – it’s an hour out of your day a few times a year, and you get a drink and a biscuit afterwards. Orange Clubs, if you’re lucky – so go on, head to http://www.blood.co.uk and find out where you can donate.
This week’s cover photo is of a field between North Weald and Tawney Common, where the farmer has left a wide and beautiful border of wildflowers around the field. My phone camera doesn’t do it justice but the butterflies and bees were loving it!
Next week is the end of term: no more home learning till September, and hopefully we’ll be back to some form of normal by then, at least in terms of going back to school. Thing 2 is having a socially distanced leavers’ assembly this week in the school playground, so please wish us good weather!